An individual freedom…

Generally speaking, employees are free to choose how they wish to dress, including in the workplace. Such freedom is protected by the rules of the French labor code, which provide that an employer may not restrict an employee’s work clothing without proper justification based on the nature of the tasks to be performed and that any such restrictions must be in proportion to the goal sought.

…which can be limited under certain circumstances

However, the freedom to dress as one wishes does not fall within the category of fundamental liberties and therefore it may be limited in certain circumstances.

The decisions of the French courts have therefore held that certain restrictions on the freedom to dress may therefore be permitted if they are prescribed by professional necessities, relating to any of:

  • health and safety (e.g. in the case of a butcher whose particularly negligent clothing had been unfavourably commented on several customers);
  • security (e.g. where particularly unhealthy or dirty working conditions require that appropriate work clothing must be made available to workers);
  • decency (e.g. wearing a transparent blouse, for a bookkeeper, has been considered as “likely to cause trouble in the business”);
  • out of concerns for the company’s image–in particular when the employee is in direct contact with the customers.

Where restrictions are set by the employer, a specific procedure is required to be implemented and this will need to be formalized.

Example of particular restrictions which can be set by French employers

  • Uniform

The employer must justify the requirement made to employees to wear uniform for reasons of health or safety, or due to the fact that employees are in contact with customers.

In this regard, the French Supreme Court has confirmed the validity of the dismissal of an assistant responsible for hotel reservations, who refused to wear the uniform which she considered too daring.

  • Name badge

Under certain circumstances employers may require employees to wear name badges. This is the case in particular for employees who are in contact with the public.

  • Religious clothing or symbols

French law provides a general prohibition on wearing clothing intended to conceal one’s face in a public space, as well as in places open to the public or designated for a public service.

However, French law also considers religious freedom to be a fundamental liberty and any dismissal based on an employee’s religious beliefs is considered as null and void.

The question of how to reconcile the protection of such individual religious liberty (and the consequent freedom to express one’s religious beliefs) and the legitimate interests of employing companies may prove to be difficult, but French courts generally consider that an employer may, under certain circumstances, require employees who are in contact with the public to maintain strict religious neutrality, which implies a prohibition on wearing religious clothing or symbols.

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